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A Thanksgiving Adventure to Remember

Kelly Salance

This year, as part of our Thanksgiving celebrations in our San Francisco office, we organized a canned food drive benefitting St. Anthony’s. After collecting over 500 cans, two members of our team planned to drop the proceeds from the drive off, as well as a couple boxes of retired Zendesk swag – t-shirts and mugs – to be donated. All in all, we headed out the doors for the three-block walk with a massive cart of nine boxes precariously stacked above our heads.

The walk is short but requires crossing Market St. – a main artery in the city for buses, trolleys, cars and thousands of pedestrians each day. As we pushed our cart across the intersection, we cleared the dreaded first train track easily. Keeping up our momentum for the second track, we were not so lucky this time.  The cart slammed to a halt with a loud thud, as the front wheel lodged into the tracks.  The top two boxes full of cans of corn, green beans, and other veggies immediately flew through the air and crashed down to the pavement, rolling all over Market St.  In an attempt to get the cart unstuck, we jerked it backwards, which freed the cart, but knocked off the remaining boxes in the process.

With boxes, t-shirts, jars and cans spread out all over Market St., traffic halted, and our team of two quickly scrambled to gather everything. Before we fully knew it though, there were over a half dozen people helping. A local business owner, young teens, people waiting for busses, a police officer, and neighborhood folks all rushed to help. It was only a matter of minutes before everything was cleaned and people were helping us finish crossing the street. All in all, we successfully delivered every box to St. Anthony’s and only lost a jar of pickles in the process!

When reflecting on this adventure, it reminded us exactly why we love being a part of this community. People from all walks of life quickly came together without blinking an eye to help. What should have shut down traffic for some time, took five minutes to clean due to the help that we received from our neighbors.  It was clear that with a community like ours, a setback like this is truly no big dill!

Community Spotlight: The Arc San Francisco

Kelly Salance

Do companies need to build a diverse and inclusive workforce? Of course there are the moral reasons, yet, in addition many studies demonstrate the business case for diversity and inclusion.  According to one study,  inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments. This makes sense – hiring diversely leads to different perspectives, which in turn creates more diverse products and overall business. Additionally, when companies are inclusive, meaning actively adapting the culture and behaviors to respond to employees, then people will feel included. That’s why at Zendesk we work with The Arc San Francisco, an organization that serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to increase our company’s diversity and give populations with hiring barriers the opportunity to build their careers.

The Arc is a lifelong learning and achievement center supporting over 700 individuals with developmental disabilities in San Francisco. With a mission to serve this population by promoting self-determination, dignity and quality of life, The Arc offers a variety of programs to help individuals achieve their personal goals. Individuals come to The Arc at different points in their personal growth and professional careers. There is programming to support individuals at each step in their lives with classes in three development areas: Adult Life and Skills, Employment Development, and Careers and Advancement; all of which aim to learn new skills or reinforce others at any stage of adulthood.

Further, The Arc focuses on job training and placement teaching skills such as resume writing, computer and mobile skills, professional communication skills and professional conduct to individuals looking for employment. Today, almost 300 clients have found employment at top companies around the Bay Area with an average length of employment of seven years.

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The Arc understands this importance and strives to help companies diversify their workforce through hiring adults with developmental disabilities. According to the Campaign for Disability Employment, “Businesses that are inclusive of people with disabilities – in recruitment, retention, and advancement – benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills, and creative business solutions. Additionally, work environments that are flexible and open to the talents of all qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, actually promote workplace success for everyone.”

Zendesk’s partnership with the Arc began five years ago when we first hired a client of The Arc, Eric, on our Workplace Experience team helping with office services. Since 2011, a lot has changed at Zendesk but Eric is still here as one of our most committed employees. In the spring of this year, we worked with the Arc to hire Casey to our IT team where he maintains the conference rooms and makes sure they are working properly -- no easy task between our two buildings. Both Eric and Casey have been invaluable to their teams, providing essential work, boosting moral and contributing to a more inclusive work environment.

Interested in hiring a client from the Arc?

The Arc minimizes all barriers to hiring a client through pre-employment preparation, on-site job coaching, and ongoing support to the client and team. For more information about The Arc San Francisco Employment Services contact Kristen Pedersen, Director of Employment and Education Programs, at kpedersen@thearcsf.org.

An Interview on the West London Day Centre Sleep Out

Kelly Salance

According to the the UK government, over 3,500 people slept rough on any one night across England in 2015. West London Day Centre (WLDC), an organization working to combat homelessness, opens their doors to homeless guests once a week to offer a safe space for people to sleep for the night. In an effort for people to gain a better understanding of the difficulties of sleeping on the street, WLDC hosted a Sleep Out in their facility on a Friday night in October.  

Image via West London Day Centre Website

Image via West London Day Centre Website

Carl McDowell and Catherine Hurley from our London Office took part in the Sleep Out raising £1215 for the night shelter. This money will be used to support the guests of WLDC to help them move into more permanent housing and onto a better chapter in their lives. We sat down with Carl and Cat after the sleep out to hear about their experiences. They shared what motivated them to participate, why it is so important and challenges they encountered.

Why did you sign up to do this?

Cat: It seemed like a really good challenge, it’s not something I’ve ever done before and an awesome opportunity to raise money for WLDC.  I don’t always get the chance to take part in volunteering opportunities as I manage a large team across three countries, so it was a good opportunity to give up my own time for an amazing cause.

Carl: I thought getting involved with volunteering would be a great way to get to know my colleagues.

How did you feel about sleeping rough for the night?

Cat: I always thought I was grateful to have a home, a comfortable bed and warmth.  I think when it’s 3am and you’re lying on the ground and the wind is hitting your face that you really realise just how lucky you are.  That also these things aren’t a given, sometimes it’s so easy in the world we live in to feel deserving of material things, yet there are people without these simple things every night and that is really emotional.

Carl: The ground is hard, and we were spoilt with a sleeping bag and mat from Zendesk. The people sleeping rough only have what they can find, so this experience gives us a lot more perspective on how hard it is for them. We got to do this in a safe environment, with people looking after us, a toilet to use, and friends around us. A rough sleeper has none of this. So it’s really good to know how much of a benefit the program the WLDC gives. They have a safe place to sleep each night, get to have a sense of community at a hot meal and then then give them the support they need to get them back into work and housing.

Why do you feel doing this is important?

Cat: Being able to experience what people are going through on a daily basis instead of the easy route which is to ignore it.  On the way to work we walk past people with the assumption that they are different to us, when actually these are just people like you and me that have had worse luck. We are all one step away from being homeless and that could be me in 6 months time. It is something we can keep ignoring.

Carl: This was not only a good way to help raise money for those experiencing homelessness, but it gives those who sleep out a glimpse into what it would be like to be a rough sleeper. Now that we have been through this we can talk to them with compassion and understanding.

What did you get out of this experience?

Cat: It was a very humbling experience. I never want the huge feeling of gratitude to leave me and be dragged back to not feeling truly thankful for everything I have in life and constantly wishing for more.

Has this experience changed your view and understand of homelessness?

Cat: Yes, I got home late on the tube and often walk past homeless people and usually just put my head down and walk on.  On Saturday night, the day after our sleep out challenge, I put 50p in a gentlemen’s cup who was sleeping rough and asked if he wanted a sleeping bag. He said yes, I ran home, picked up the stuff Zendesk supplied me with for the sleep out, stopped to grab him a cup of tea and delivered them to him.  Before meeting with people on the night of the sleep out that are going through being homeless I had a stupid fear that it was patronizing and that we were very different people.  It gave me the confidence to go up to someone and ask if they wanted help rather than being intimated of how they would react.

Carl: Yes definitely, especially when the two people from the WLDC came in and asked us what we thought the reasons for homelessness were.  It really expands your ideas of how easy it is for anyone to become homeless including myself.  I’m looking forward to participating in more volunteering and helping where I can to tackle this problem.

What was the most challenging part of the evening?

Carl: It was cold, the worst part was my nose was cold and I had to use the beanie ear flaps to try and cover my nose.

Cat: I really missed having a pillow. Such a small thing, but made it much harder to sleep.

Thank you to Cat and Carl for getting out of your comfort zones and participating in the WLDC Sleep Out. Want to take part in a sleep out? Check out their website to learn more about how to get involved with WLDC. 

 

 

Trick-Or-Treat and Something Sweet!

Kelly Salance

It's officially fall, which means one thing.... Halloween has taken over our office! While the fact that summer is over may seem spooky, the fact that hundreds of kids in the Tenderloin neighborhood are without a Halloween costume is the real fright.

For the third year, we teamed up with Compass Family Services to help over 300 homeless and at-risk kiddos in the neighborhood have a Halloween to remember. Compass works with homeless and low-income families in San Francisco to help them move towards stability.

At the beginning of the month, our office organized a Halloween Costume Drive to be distributed to children of all ages in the neighborhood. Employees reminisced about their favorite Halloween memories as they brought all sorts of costumes. From Superwoman, to a ladybug, to a very furry lion, we collected over 100 costumes!

In addition to the costumes, each year we host a Halloween party for the children and their families. Our Zendesk office is transformed into a cobwebby, spooky, pumpkin-filled Halloween-land.

This year, there were many stations for families to partake in the Halloween fun. Kids were face painted like Spiderman, had their hair done crazier than Pippi Longstocking and were transformed into Frankenstein while decorating masks. To top off the party, a magician performed a marvelous magic show. The party was truly filled with tricks, treats and lots of sweets for everyone to enjoy. Happy Halloween! 

Grace Hopper Conference 2016

Kelly Salance

This year’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology conference in Houston, TX brought together over 15,000 attendees from around the world. Since its conception in 1994, the gathering has grown to the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing. Inspired by the legacy of computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, GHC recognizes women’s experience, expertise and knowledge in the technology sector and aims to amplify these voices.

Zendesk sponsored a booth in the expo hall where we were able to meet women in every stage of their careers from still in college to experts in the field. We had two engineers present: Adel Smee, from Melbourne office, and Shani Tang, from San Francisco, both first time attendees.

The conference tackled issues from diversity, to advancing your career path, to innovative products. However, one of the unexpected highlights of the conference was the sense of belonging. As Adel describes, “I never knew, not really, how it felt to be surrounded by women who are like me. How comforted and proud and connected and delighted. Not only by these women but at the significant financial and cultural support for women on display by so many companies who build the technology that is shaping the future of so many of us.”

Read the full article about Adel’s experience on her post on Medium.

Adel’s sentiment about the conference is not an isolated feeling. Many women who came by our booth, touched on the importance of the conference.  It was a powerful three days, where women in computing careers gathered from all over the world for knowledge-sharing, professional development and support.